By John Kern, from Cardsblog.com
In 2013, a young Cardinals team, in large part due to its ridiculous batting average with runners in scoring position, advanced all the way to the World Series. And with Kolten Wong poised for his first full season the next year, the future was bright. But Wong largely failed to live up to his, probably unreasonable, expectations. A high batting average in the minors largely failed to continue into his Major League career, as Wong has hit to the tune of a career .248 batting average.
Should a low average hitter with speed and a little pop be what we expect from Wong? I don’t think so. Wong just turned 26, and I trust him to improve as his career continues. While he has largely relied on his defense as his value, his hitting in the minors does not correlate to how he has performed in the MLB.
Wong is an amazing defender, and that is not likely to change. His ability to get on base has been the weak point of his game so far, and with his speed and his hitting prowess in the minor leagues, that does not make much sense.
A .308 career hitter in the minors profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter. And considering his speed, Kolten Wong, at the beginning of his career, was expected to become a potential lead-off man. In the minors he played stellar defense, hit very well, and stole bases effectively. In the big leagues, he's done two of the three, showing flashes of offensive brilliance at certain points in his career.
I expect Wong to take a huge step forward next year. In 2016, he had a career low strikeout rate, a career high walk rate, but the reason we're not looking at a career year from Wong last year was his crazy low .268 batting average on balls in play.
Every season of Wong's career has ended with a lower-than-expected BABIP, but his 2016 campaign was his lowest full season result. An extremely low BABIP is largely due to luck, leading me to believe that Wong has been one of the unluckier hitters. He hits the ball hard, especially for someone his size, and the results have yet to come for him.
If Wong's BABIP stabilizes next year, and he continues to improve his plate discipline, expect him to have a big year. A .280 average is not unreasonable, with 10 plus home runs and stellar defense would make Wong one of the best second basemen in the MLB. As he continues to develop into his prime, Wong could finally become one of the Cardinals' most valuable players and a staple of teams to come in the future.
Plus, Wong has performed in the clutch. While the majority of this article has been statistics oriented, I still think that the ability to perform in clutch situations is a valuable statistic. Just recently, Wong hit a ninth inning triple in a key game, although he did not end up scoring, and had many key hits throughout the NLCS against the Giants two years ago.
Wong's improvement is a key factor in the Cardinals' future, as he could solidify the infield and provide a valuable asset at the top of the order. The Cardinals have struggled for several years now finding a strong base stealer, and if Wong is able to get on consistently, his speed and base running awareness could lead to many more scoring opportunities. Plus, his improved offense could land him permanently in the lineup, as he provides much-needed defense behind a declining pitching staff.
I believe in Kolten Wong, and hope that his luck turns next year, as he could become one of the most important members of the Cardinals' team.